Joy Out of Despair

A while back I had the joy of leading my Bible study group since our leader was out of town. The lesson was from 1 Samuel 1. Many of us who were brought up in church are quite familiar with the story of Hannah. She was barren, prayed for a son, and God answered. Many times in our study we spend most of the time focusing on the main character of the story. Usually this would be Hannah. In reality, however, the primary character is God. In my study, I focused on the character of God and how he responds to someone in great distress and need.

This story takes place in a time when polygamy was the norm. This was not God’s perfect plan, but the culture embraced it. And, it always made life messy for everyone. Hannah’s husband had two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, Hannah had none. It appears that Peninnah’s main goal in life was to make life miserable, even unbearable for Hannah. She wanted to crush her.

The Message, I Samuel 1:6, reveals the true environment for Hannah, “But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year.” All of this finally took its toll on Hannah. She stopped eating. She was despondent. She wept. She was crushed. At least she felt crushed. But, she wasn’t.

She went to the sanctuary of the Lord and she cried out to God in prayer. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (v 10, NIV) I read this verse in 13 translations and this is what I found about her emotional and physical condition:

  • She was in deep anguish
  • She was in bitterness of soul
  • She was deeply hurt
  • She was crushed in soul
  • She was in great distress
  • She was resentful
  • She was sad
  • She cried bitterly
  • She was brokenhearted
  • She was bold enough to ask for something big.

This was severe hurting and she did severe crying! She was in excruciating emotional pain. She came as she was. She was even vulnerable enough for Eli, the priest to see her in this condition. She was desperate. She was broken. What did God do? He heard, He comforted, He restored, He understood, He answered. He blessed. He restored her physically and emotionally. Verse 18, 19 says, “She went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.”

Four weeks ago I found myself in the midst of all the emotions that Hannah experienced. My despair was different from hers, but every bit as intense. My sister died. She lost her battle with cancer. Kimberly was 6 years younger than me and what joy came to my life when she was born! We loved each other deeply. We valued this special relationship and honored each other in ways that allowed us to nurture one another in the good times of life and in the bad times of life. We mothered each other, we were best friends, we were blood sisters, but more than that, we were soul sisters. We understood each other. We could be real with each other. We accepted each other even though we were very different.

SO many gifts received through this amazing woman! My loss is deep. My hurt is deep. My grief is deep.

I am greatly blessed to have family and friends who understand this deep agony. None of them have the attitude of, “Get over it.” They let me talk. They let me feel. They let me cry. They check on me. They pray for me. Oh, how this helps! God is using so many to help me walk this journey.

Even though these precious ones are helping me walk this journey, I know that no one can comfort me in those deepest places where the deepest pain resides in my soul like Jesus. He knows every little thing about me. He knows what each pain is connected to. He has perfect understanding of all the inward workings of my heart and soul. He knows how to give me the comfort, restoration and healing that needs to ultimately come. He is present. I must be aware of that Holy Presence and spend lots of time resting in that place.

What are the results of going to God in our brokenness, pain, and desperation? What happens when we come to him with sobs of grief and hurt and pure honesty? It takes us to a deeper place of knowing God. It takes us to a deeper place of trusting God. It takes us to a place of humility. It takes us to a deeper place of surrender. It takes us to a deeper place of worship. It takes us to a place of hope and healing.

We are always welcomed into God’s presence just as we are. These words penned by David Crowder in the song “Come As You Are” express this place so well.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal.

My sister found Heaven’s perfect joy and healing when she took her final breath here on Earth and went safely Home to live forever with her Beloved Jesus. For us still here, we can be assured that mourning doesn’t last forever. It is for a season. There is an ebb and flow to this time of suffering. The time of tears will be further and further apart. I have faith and hope because of the Words of Life that I find in the promises of scripture and because of the One I’ve put my trust in.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” David’s words in Psalm 30:11-12. These are words for me . . . and perhaps for you today!

Taming the Inner Critic

 

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I love to be with people, but in small groups. It’s just how I’m wired. I love leading and facilitating Bible studies and other types of small groups, but I have a “favorite” number for group size – five to seven. That’s where I’m most comfortable. Oh, and it’s really comfortable when I actually already know one or two in the group pretty well. It gives me comfort and security. Needless to say, I’m an introvert. It’s how God designed me.

But, in my life God has asked me to get out of that place of comfort and share my life with bigger groups. It’s quite scary. I’ve said “yes” many times and I didn’t faint, get sick, or die. I know I’ve felt sick, but it didn’t happen. I have God and His strength to thank for that. However, I don’t come away from those uncomfortable situations to a place of joy and peace, thinking to myself “oh how God used me. It was wonderful!” I come from those places with my own inner critic screaming at me saying things like, “What you said was confusing. That didn’t go so smoothly. You should have done better. On and on and on my own inner voice goes.”

How grateful I am to be in a better place of understanding this about myself: I have a strong inner critic that God wants to tame. And, he’s in the taming business! So what are some things I’m learning?

  • There are times I won’t be at my best, and it’s okay. When God calls me to a new place where there’s some stretching going on in me, there is never any need for beating myself up because it didn’t go perfectly. Give myself grace. It will go better next time, if there’s a next time.
  • Accept that no matter what, I am Christ’s beloved. That’s the only thing that really matters.
  • Give thanks to God when He shows me something I need to correct in my life. It’s out of love He shows it to me. He’s not pointing it out to beat me up or condemn me. He’s revealing it to me so I can grow up more.
  • I am me and His design in me is good. So, there is no need to ever compare and compete with anyone else.
  • I ask God to show me how to replace those critical remarks I make to myself with life giving thoughts. He will do it.

Thank you, God, that even as I ponder and write these words, I realize more and more how easy it is to fall back into living in a “me centered” place instead of in a new creation place. Although I’m never perfect, help me to always make forward movement that brings greater freedom in Christ .

To what new place is God taking you? How are your getting there? What are you learning on the journey?

The Two Most Important Colors of Christmas

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Two years ago we bought a new Christmas tree. Our new house needed a slim-line tree since our living area is smaller. We found the perfect one for the space we have. Since it was a new tree, I decided to get new ornaments. The colors I went with were white and red. For my decorating taste, there is something elegant about the white and red balls among the white lights. I am an early riser which means I get to sit in my comfy chair, turn on the gas logs, and enjoy the beauty of this lighted Christmas tree.

I decorated with white and red because it is what I like. It comes from a preference. I didn’t choose those colors because of anything spiritual. However, God can use all kinds of things to get our gaze closer upon Him. If there’s anytime our gaze needs to be more on Him, and less on ourselves, it’s Christmas. The colors white and red can’t help but draw me more into an emotional, joy-filled place of praise because of what these colors represent spiritually. These two colors symbolize what Christmas is all about. They remind me of who Jesus is and what He did for me and all peoples of the world.

The color white expresses the purity, perfection, and holiness of God. Jesus is the exact representation of His Father. The prophet John tells us in John 1 that Jesus is full of grace, truth, and light. This grace, truth, and light was born so we could experience life as we’ve never known it before.

But, red had to happen in order for us to have life as God intends. Red in the Bible symbolizes blood. Before Jesus’ birth, a perfect lamb without blemish had to be sacrificed in order to approach God. Now, that is no longer necessary because Jesus – the perfect Lamb of God – was born. He shed blood that led to death. It’s why He was born. Jesus was born to die. The good News is – that wasn’t the end of the story – Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered death so that man can really live here on earth and eternally in heaven.

Trusting Jesus as a Christ-follower doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, but it means He is with us guiding us, directing us, strengthening us, loving us, embracing us, providing for us, transforming us, preparing us to one day see Him face to face.

Let us not miss seeing Jesus during this special time of the year when we celebrate the most amazing and spectacular birth that ever took place. He shows up in all kinds of fascinating ways. May we take time today to ponder what He’s doing in our lives that draw our gaze more directly upon Him, the perfect lover of our souls.

How do you celebrate the birth of the Lamb of God? What will you give Him this Christmas?

 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

(From In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti)

6 Important Truths about Grace

 

 

 

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In a recent Bible study we talked a lot about grace. It’s because of God’s perfect grace that I am in a love relationship with Christ. John Stott says that “grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues.” Jesus certainly did that for me and that grace never stops.

God’s grace is a generous grace that keeps giving and giving. Because of this grace, I’m to be a grace bearer to others: family, friends, strangers. I love how Richard Blackaby describes grace in his book “Putting a Face on Grace”.

  • Grace doesn’t insist on being right. It seeks to make things right.
  • Grace doesn’t demand to be heard. It strives to listen and understand.
  • Grace doesn’t claim its rights. It voluntarily lays them aside.
  • Grace doesn’t look for wrongs. It seeks out what is right.
  • Grace builds others up. It focuses on the positive, not the negative.
  • Grace is willing to say, “I was wrong. Forgive me.” It forgives others, even if they never ask to be forgiven.

I think of the many people who extended grace to me during the last three years when struggles were deep and pain intense. I remember a counselor asking me what friend I had who would meet with me once a week to check on me and hear my heart. She knew what I needed! My pride didn’t want to ask that of someone, but I did, and she said yes. What grace she extended to me! What healing came through her listening presence, her love, her tender heart, and her words of hope. I think of so many others, family and friends, who were there for me through my sister’s illness and the loss of my mother. They consistently called or sent texts with words of songs, words from the Psalms, prayers, listening ears. Grace is active. Grace is willing to be inconvenienced. Grace is empowering. Grace is graciousness. Grace transforms. How I want to be a woman of grace! Lord, may I show grace to everyone in my life today. And, at the end of the day may I ask, “Where have I shown grace? Where was it lacking?” May I grow in Christ-likeness and never be satisfied until every part of my life is saturated with grace. Amen.

 

 

 

 

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